Friday, September 28, 2018

Bouchercon 2018: Saturday's and Sunday's Panels

8:00 (Yes, that’s 8:00 AM. This is what I get for drinking with Joe Clifford Friday night and him telling me not to come to an 8:00 panel. I showed him.) Drawing Inspiration From Our Kids (Bonus panel not in the program)
Joe Clifford (M), Emily Carpenter. Mason Cross, Shannon Kirk, Tom Pitts, LynDee Walker

Mason Cross: I like all my kids individually, but as a group…

Tom Pitts: Tucks his kids in with, “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs crawl in your ears and lay eggs.” (To which Joe Clifford added, “There’s a bucket in the back for donations to help pay for the kids’ therapy.”)

Clifford: The days are long, but the years are short. (Didn’t take credit for it, but he did say it and I liked it.)

Cross’s daughter has a year-end evaluation where the child gets a chance to comment the school and teacher. His daughter’s contribution: Don’t use collective punishment, as it’s not fair to those who did nothing wrong and is illegal under the 1948 Geneva Convention.

Emily Carpenter: It’s better to let kids read beyond their comprehension than it is to let them see the same thing in a movie or on TV, as they’ll only imagine what they can at that age.

Pitts’s earliest reading experiences were reading the novels related to movies he wasn’t allowed to see.

8:30 Authors on the Air
Pam Stack did two series of short interviews on Saturday. She had to scramble to get all the people in she wanted—hell, she even got me in, which shows how far she was willing to stoop—but two stories stood out, both by Reed Farrel Coleman. When someone asked him how to become a best-selling author, he said, “Wait for a famous author to die, then take over the series.”

Once he was talking to Lawrence Block about that and Coleman mentioned he was probably better suited to writing Matt Scudder novels than Jesse Stone. Block took his own pulse and said, “Not yet, you’re not.”

(Reed was on a roll Saturday. Later he said, “Love writing, not what you’ve written.”)

9:00 It Takes a Village to Publish a Book—Behind the Scenes
Clair Lamb (M), Terri Bischoff, Mary Harris, Maddee James, Bryon Quertermous, Lance Wright
I know I missed good stuff here, as I got to the panel late after making an appearance at the Authors on the Air gig.

Maddee James and Bryon Quertermous agree that the more thought you devote up front the easier and quicker the setting up of your web site will be. (Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: Madee James built the web site you’re reading this on. Not only is she absolutely right with this comment, she gives you all the help you’ll need to think of the things you’d never think of on your own.)

Mary Harris (editor) asks for half of her fee up front then half when the client is happy. She’ll also take payments.

Quertermous: When agreeing on how the editor or web designer will get paid, take into consideration how the author will get paid. There are trade-offs for an author. When working with a traditional publisher, you get paid slower but have no up-front costs.

Quertermous: It’s not bad to use an editor who freelances while working a day job for a publisher. Lots of people do it, but the author must remember it doesn’t guarantee publication unless the editor is working under the auspices of the publisher.

Harris uses Word and Track Changes and will give the author a tutorial if necessary. (Editor’s Note: If in doubt, this is definitely the way to go.)

Quertermous: If an agent or a publisher asks for an exclusive, put them on the clock.

11:00 Abracadabra—Turning True Crime into Fiction
Reed Farrel Coleman (M), Peter Blauner, Julia Dahl, Hank Phillippi Ryan, R.G. Belsky

Reed Farrel Coleman started by doing something I wish more moderators did: gave the audiences a chance to ask questions as the panel went along, but established ground rules for the questions: 1) no thesis statements; 2) do not begin with “In my book.” 3) get to the point. These rules were enforced and everyone was better off for it.

Peter Blauner once called Coleman before writing a Long Island story to make sure Reed didn’t want it for himself.

Julia Dahl: Hasidic Jews in New York have their own shadow government, including a “police force.” They are strongly encouraged to keep everything inside the community.

Hank Phillippi Ryan had a deal to write a book about the Casey Anthony story and had it almost done for a quick turnaround as the trial was ending. The whole deal fell through when Anthony was acquitted, as “No one wants to read about innocent people.”

R.G. Belsky likes to show how covering stories affects the journalist, prompting Coleman to remember Joseph Wambaugh’s famous line, “It’s not how the detective works the case, it’s how the case works the detective.”

Dahl on the reasons to write a novel instead of an article: As a reporter you can only tell the truth as related by others. A novelist can put herself on the actual scene.

Blauner is not a “ripped from the headlines” guy. He prefers the story on page 7 that creates an emotional attachment in him. He finds people are more honest when talking to a fiction writer because they know they’re not going to turn up in the paper or on television.

Coleman: If you want the facts, read non-fiction. If you want the truth, read fiction.

Belsky wrote a piece about a Kennedy funeral from the perspective of the guy who dug the grave.

Ryan: You might not be able to get inside the crime scene tape, but you might be able to talk a neighbor into letting you look out of an overlooking window.

Blauner: Research can turn into a very sophisticated form of procrastination.

(Not to put anyone else down, but this was my favorite panel this year.)

12:00 Walking a High Wire Without a Net—Creating Tension in Thrillers
Brad Parks (M), Jason Backlund, Simon Gervais, John Gilstrap, Taylor Stevens, James Swain

(Editor’s Note: My new writing fantasy is to have Brad Parks introduce me at a panel. Hilarious.)

Brad Parks: A mystery is about solving a crime. A thriller is about thwarting one.

John Gilstrap: Keep questions unanswered as long as possible. End chapters so they lead into the next.

Simon Gervais: Each sub-plot should have its own layers of tension.

Jason Backlund: Keep pulling on separate threads.

James Swain: Stay ahead of the audience.

Gilstrap: Several books into his series he killed off a recurring character so his regular readers wouldn’t get too comfortable with the idea that everyone will live.

Parks (citing some guy named Lee Child): Write the fast scenes slow and the slow scenes fast.

Gilstrap: Tension can be created when nothing happens. Mundane things that proceed in an unanticipated manner can do it. He told the story of a routine ordnance disposition where the pile of explosives didn’t blow up until fifteen minutes after they triggered the initiator.

Swain: If a pre-reader gives you a suggestion, at least try it.

3:00 Southern Fiction (Another bonus panel)
Eryk Pruitt (M), Ace Adkins, Shawn Cosby, Steph Post, Alex Segura

Shawn Cosby: Why is the onus on the black community to keep track of genealogy? Why does anyone need to keep track of it?

Ace Adkins is an Alabama native who lives in Mississippi and sometimes trips up interviewers when he mentions his ancestors fought in the Civil War—for the Union.

Eryk Pruitt: The South ends in Dallas and the West begins in Fort Worth. To him there is no boundary between east Texas and western Louisiana.

Adkins: Even as deep in the south as Oxford MS, pre-Civil War shopkeepers were likely immigrants speaking foreign languages.

4:00 The Building Blocks of Crime Fiction
Jill Block (M), Peter Blauner, Lawrence Block, Robert Olen Butler, Philip Friedman, Laura Lippman,

Laura Lippman likes to take other novels and move the story in different directions.

Robert Olen Butler quoted Graham Greene: All good novelists have bad memories. What you remember comes out as journalism; what you forget goes into the compost of the imagination.

Butler also said fiction comes from the same place as dreams do. Not as dreams, but from the same place.

Lippman: To lose the sense of fun when writing is death.

8:00 (Yes. Eight in the morning again! Damn you, Jeff Hess, for being such a good guy!)
Attenhut!—GIs Who Write
Ross Carley (M), Jack Carr, Jeffery Hess, Ward Larsen, Paul Sinor, Jeff Wilson

Paul Sinor described the difference between a war story and a fairy tale. The fairy tale begins “Once upon a time.” The war story opens with, “This ain’t no shit.”

Sinor: Military humility is often enabled by a morbid sense of humor.

Jeffery Hess encouraged people to let their kids read above their levels, to “read up.” (This in response to a question from a woman sitting directly behind me, who then said loud enough for most to hear, “So long as the language isn’t too bad.” In a perfect world someone that ignorant wouldn’t get to ask questions. I hope she home schools, otherwise what the fuck does she think the kids hear—and say—in school?)

9:00 Agents in Charge—Writing Federal Agents
Tim O’Mara (M), Christine Carbo, Matthew Clemens, Jim Doherty, J.J. Hensley, Mark Pryor
(Tim O’Mara is a retired teacher who subscribes to the Reed Farrel Coleman School of Panel Moderation.)

Jim Doherty: Relations between local and state or federal agencies aren’t usually as contentious as books and movies make them out to be. Even when they are there are back channels people on both sides can work. (That said, LAPD and the FBI do not get along. Must be left over from Die Hard.)

J.J. Hensley: Locals are often glad to give a case up to the feds, especially one they can’t handle of have no interest in, such as counterfeiting.

Matthew Clemens: Friction can arise when there are competing interests. Gave the example of a situation where it was decided to prosecute a kid who had prior knowledge of a potential school shooting and the kid turned out to be the son of a tribal leader.

Christine Carbo: Small and isolated police departments in Montana have a very laissez-faire relationship with the feds, who come and go pretty much as they please. The FBI wants good relationships with the locals. They’re there all the time.

Mark Pryor: FBI profilers will not get involved if you already have a suspect. They only deal with UNSUBS. Individual agents may provide opinions individually and off the record.

Clemens: Investigators need to go to social media immediately on a major crime because the media will and they don’t want to see evidence on CNN before they get it.

*  *  *

And there you have it. I’ll have a couple more posts over the next few weeks to go over highlights that weren’t panels, as they deserve more attention than can be given in a post such as this.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bouchercon 2018: Friday's Panels

Today is the second installment of my Bouchercon review. As always, comments were retrieved from inexpertly taken notes that were more impaired as the weekend progressed. I have tried to capture the essence of what everyone quoted said, but I make no claims that these are word-for-word, and apologize if I misinterpreted anything. No malice is intended. (So you can forget that suing for libel bullshit right now.)

10:00 Talking Tough—Writing Hard-Boiled and Noir
Ted Fitzgerald (M), Ragnar Jonasson, Rick Ollerman, Caro Ramsey, John Shepphird

I don’t have notes from this panel, me being on it and all. I just want to send my sincere thanks and appreciation to Ted, Ragnar, Rick, Caro, and John for being such outstanding panel mates and great fun. My Bouchercon streak is intact, as once again, I scored a panel that carried me.

11:00 Holding Out for a Hero—Criminal Protagonists
Penni Jones (M), Eric Beetner, Charles Salzberg, Josh Stallings, David Swinson, Rebecca Drake

This panel fell immediately after mine, so I got there late. It was still worth making the effort, as a good discussion broke out right after I got there. A condensed version is below.

Charles Salzberg: Criminality is relative. There are things that are illegal and there are things like breaking hearts and betraying trusts that are crimes against people even though they are not illegal.

David Swinson: The definition of criminal is someone who commits an arrestable offense.

Josh Stallings noted his father went to jail for protesting a war. Was he a criminal? Meanwhile, people in different, more elevated stations of life commit “arrestable offenses” every day but arrest is never contemplated.

(A little later) Swinson: Would I arrest Hunter S. Thompson? No. (Said with an inflection that is impossible to capture in writing. May easily be interpreted as, “Fuck no.”)

12:00 Capitol Crimes—Political Thrillers
Matthew FitzSimmons (M), Jack Carr, Joseph Finder, Christina Kovac, Terrence McCauley, Tom Rosenstiel

Christina Kovac: We’ve all seen the origins of political thrillers on the playground.

Terrence McCauley (following up): Political thrillers don’t have to be about “politics.” Any kind of human interaction qualifies.

McCauley: The most violent movie he’s ever seen is Glengarry, Glen Ross. The language is used as a weapon.

Tom Rosenstiel: Political stories often give us the politics we want but don’t get. The West Wing gave us a better Clinton, then showed the differences with Bush,

Joseph Finder: Conspiracy thrillers came of age after Watergate and Vietnam.

Jack Carr mentioned the Church hearings. His novel’s premise at the time was, “What if someone didn’t get that memo, that we weren’t doing those things anymore?”

Carr (On why people read political thrillers): This country was founded on a mistrust of government.

Rosenstiel (Same question): Political thrillers show a broken situation where the system puts things back together but in a slightly different form.

Kovac: From a woman’s perspective, it’s an examination of the fear that comes with being a “smaller mammal” and the social elements involved.

McCauley: Political thrillers address our fears so people can work through them to gain a different perspective other than fear alone.

Rosenstiel: Political thrillers are about the criminals on the front page while criminal thrillers are about people inside the paper.

FitzSimmons: The best political thriller writers are working for free on Reddit.

McCauley wants to make the thriller more personal by focusing on the one item everyone has the most exposure on. (He then pulled off the most masterful marketing coup I’ve ever seen at Bouchercon by holding up as an example his cell phone, which has a cover featuring Terrence’s new Western, Where the Bullets Fly. Brilliant.)

Carr: Cell phones are surveillance devices that also make phone calls.

1:00 Blue Collars—Writing the Working Class without Condescension
Mike McCrary (M), Elizabeth Mundy, Steph Post, Eryk Pruitt

Eryk Pruitt: Most of my stories are about how shitty I was as a drug dealer. (He follows his father around to get the voice he wants when he has trouble capturing it.)

Steph Post: The working class works. They’re not the stereotypes they’re too often made out to be.

Pruitt: The whole thing’s going to hell pretty soon so we’re all going to be working class.

Post: The rhythms of a character’s speech convey more than changing words or dropping Gs.

4:00 Fight Me! Authors Discuss Unpopular Opinions About Crime/Mystery
Kristen Sullivan (M), Christa Faust, Danny Gardner, Renee Pickup, Kieran Shea

Danny Gardner: We’ve been sleeping together since the Mayflower, so we should be able to get along. We do get along well enough to make babies.

Christa Faust is looking for the day when you can write marginalized characters as fuck ups. Then we’ll be where we need to be.

Kieran Shea: Raising money for a law school is like raising money for cancer. One percent of lawyers ever see the inside of a courtroom. The rest are embittered and angry people.

Renee Pickup: If you’re not a veteran, don’t give me another “veteran hit man” story unless you want me to become a veteran hit man.

Faust: Lots of people ask me for “neutral” stories. They don’t want to read social issues. (Pickup, interjecting: “How can you write crime without social issues?”) When people say not to add politics what they really mean is to add their politics.

(A question from the audience about cultural appropriation)
Gardner: Get to know some black folks and you can write black folks.

Faust: If you are respectful and get to know folks you can write about them.

Shea: Remember that everyone has humanity. Understand but don’t make assumptions.

Gardner never does anything to a character he wouldn’t do to a cousin, using the black definition of “cousin,” which can extend out quite a ways, leaving open plenty of opportunity for mayhem.

Shea: Everyone is being screwed over by their definition of The Man.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bouchercon 2018: Thursday's Panels

Bouchercon is the crime fiction devotees’ Christmas. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a reader, writer, or those wonderful folks who don’t have a title yet act as the magnets and lubricants that draw everyone together and make things so easy. Bloggers, reviewers, podcasters, interviewers, everyone’s there, and everyone’s been looking forward to it since last year. This year’s conference was in St. Petersburg FL September 6 – 9. What follows here and over the next several blogs is one man’s experience. First, the panels. Later, the extracurricular activities.

(Editor’s Note: The comments attributed to each writer here and in the accounts to come are from the best of my recollection, taken from notes scrawled at the time. I am not a journalist, and I apologize to anyone whose quote I didn’t get right. I only claim to have made every effort to capture the spirit in which the remarks were intended.)

I knew this would be an exceptional conference when I scored copies of Lou Berney’s and Sam Wiebe’s books from a trade table before the first panel even began. I just feel badly for the poor unfortunates who don’t realize what a mistake they made by not keeping them.

10:00 AM Just the Facts—Getting Law Enforcement Details Right
George Lichman (Moderator), Colin Campbell, Deborah Crombie, Margaret Mizushima, Danielle Ramsey, Leo Maloney

Colin Campbell referenced Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys as addressing the elements of police life that interest him most: how they get through the day.

Margaret Mizushima: There are a wide range of things dogs can be trained to do. Most dogs are specialists but some can do nearly everything.

Campbell: Dogs will bite whoever is in the way, cops included, especially if they’re holding a weapon.

Mizushima: Dogs do occasionally turn on their handlers.

Leo Maloney: There’s a TV series being made of his books and he retains control of what goes into them. His hero is him and he doesn’t want what he does dismissed or disparaged. (Put me in mind of the scene where Lee Marvin turns down a job in a Wild West show in Monte Walsh.)

Campbell: There are as many reasons people become cops as there are reasons people become criminals.

Campbell: It’s surprising how often bad guys’ heads don’t quite clear the police car door when the cops’ frustrations run high.

12:00 Moonlighting—The PI Tradition
Ted Hertel (M), Matt Coyle, Ted Fitzgerald, Cheryl Head, Chris Knopf, Michael Wiley

Ted Hertel has seen some who think Chandler was being sarcastic when he wrote the “mean streets” section of “The Simple Art of Murder.” (Editor’s Note: How anyone could read the whole essay and know Chandler’s work and think that is beyond me.)

Ted Fitzgerald: Because the PI moves through all levels of society, these stories can be about more than just the crime.

Fitzgerald: If you have a story you want to tell by leveraging certain things, these are traditions. If you’re just trying to recreate something you’ve read—essentially checking the boxes—they’re clichés. In short, if it works, it’s a tradition. If it doesn’t, it’s a cliché.

1:00 BANG! POW! How Much Violence is Too Much Violence?
Neliza Drew (M), Matt Phillips, Linda Sands, Kieran Shea, Wallace Stroby, Frank Zafiro

Frank Zafiro: Eric Beetner is the Kevin Bacon of crime fiction. (Editor’s Note: And the James Brown.)

Frank Zafiro: The trick today is not so much to get published as it is to get noticed.

2:00 License to Snoop—Attending PI School
Michael Pool (M), Donna Andrews, Sean Chercover, Michael Koryta, Jack Soren

Sean Chercover told the story of working as a PI in New Orleans. He checked in with the police before starting the surveillance but they still rousted him, blowing his cover. He told the client he’d done everything he was supposed to do, then the client corrected him. In New Orleans, you’re also supposed to come by with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and say you’re turning it in, you found it in a parking lot. Chercover wasn’t surprised about the graft, just that it took so little.

Donna Andrews: A female PI can hang around places men can never get away with because people may assume she’s just waiting for her kids.

Michael Koryta: PIs dread the “off the street” client. They want lawyer referrals.

Chercover seconded the notion. He only had one or two clients come to him directly. He worked mostly for lawyers and insurance companies. He even used to investigate lawyers’ potential clients before the lawyer would take the case.

Both Koryta and Chercover emphasized that everyone lies to you. Koryta went on to say that it may be a trope or it may be a cliché, but a detective cannot trust his client’s version of the truth.

Koryta: Stationary surveillance is a great way to spend time in the PI’s head. Moving surveillance is truly exciting.

Andrews: Carrying a gun mostly just adds another level of liability.

Koryta: Readers like elements of realism, so what might be boring—such as sitting on a house where nothing happens or trailing the wrong guy—can be made to sing if done well.

Andrews: Always check out the client. Told a story of a PI who was hired to remove some bugs supposedly planted by a business competitor only to find out they were the FBI’s.

Andrews: PIs understand no one can do it all. If you’re a generalist you know who the specialists are who can help you. An amateur may not understand that.

Chercover: When writing an amateur, let them run into their limitations.

Koryta: Anyone with an iPhone and $100 can do more than anything he had gadgets for ten years ago. Don’t worry about how current the technology is. It’s the writing and the characters that give a story staying power.

3:00 Small and Mighty—Small Press Publishers
Reavis Wortham (M), Eric Campbell, Kat Georges, Bob Gussin, Lloyd Otis, Chris Rhatigan

Bob Gussin can’t imagine publishing romance. The best part of publishing crime is he can tell within 10 – 15 pages if it’s worth messing with.

Worst query Kat Georges ever received: “I wrote a great book. Here’s the link.”

Georges: An often overlooked means of promotion is to write reviews for other outlets.

Gussin: The best blurbs are from the biggest authors. At least meet them to say hello at a conference, after which you can write to them to ask for the blurb, reminding them of your meeting.

Reavis Wortham: Best way to build relationships is to go to the bar and stay there.

Georges: The key advantage of a small press over self-publishing is the ability to leverage the small press’s reputation and infrastructure.

5:00 From Badge to Page—Ex=Cops Talk Writing
Danielle Ramsey (M), Bruce Robert Coffin, Colin Campbell, Tom O’Mara, Lissa Marie Redmond, Bernard Shaffer

Danielle Ramsey: Graham Greene once said “Every writer needs a heart of ice,” by which he meant an ability to look dispassionately at the most horrible or intimate things.

Lissa Marie Redmond: Male cops often have this attitude toward a female cop who’s being abused: “If you can’t handle your shit at home, how can you handle it on the street?”

Bruce Robert Coffin: Cops are used to things and people getting in the way when they’re trying to work a case.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Interview with Sandra Ruttan, Author of The Spying Moon

Sandra Ruttan is a walking disaster. She has been hit by a car, had a foot partially severed, fell down a waterfall and survived a car crash in the Sahara Desert. There is absolutely no explanation for how she's managed to stay alive as long as she has. Ruttan has five published mystery novels, including Harvest of Ruins, What Burns Within and Suspicious Circumstances. Her next book, The Spying Moon, is due out September 2018 from Down & Out Books. Get the latest news from her author Facebook page @sandraruttanauthor or her website

That’s the official bio. The Sandra Ruttan people meet in real time is a tireless supporter of writers on multiple levels with no mean level of talent herself. How she finds time to do all the things she does is imposing enough, but she still found time to sit down with me and talk about The Spying Moon.

One Bite at a Time: First, welcome to the Down & Out Books family. I hope you enjoy working with Eric and Lance and everyone as much as I have. How did you get together with them?

Sandra Ruttan: Sandra Seamans posted on her blog about Down & Out being open for submissions a few years ago. I took the deadline as a challenge and submitted. I got an offer for publication and it’s been a fantastic experience. Really wonderful working with people who are committed to the genre and making each book shine.

OBAAT: Give us the meat and potatoes of your new book, The Spying Moon, in a hundred words or less. (And I will count.)

SR: Constable Moreau is stuck on an assignment she doesn’t want, with a bunch of colleagues who want nothing to do with her. Even the case she’s supposed to be working is hijacked by the death of a local teen. When everyone seems to have an agenda or a bad attitude, it’s hard to know who to trust, and that already isn’t easy for Moreau. As an orphan she’s been isolated her whole life and she has to learn to trust her instincts, as well as some members of her team, to solve this case. (Editor’s Note: 94 words. Well done.)

OBAAT: The Spying Moon takes place in a small town in southern British Columbia. You’re a Canadian expat living in the United States now, but I believe you’re a Toronto native. What made you choose this location?

SR: I’m not quite a Toronto native. I grew up in Muskoka, which is a district north of Toronto. It’s cottage country. Sixteen hundred lakes in an area that’s 2500 square miles. Most of my life I’ve been a rural girl. As an adult, I moved out west. I spent three years living on a Gulf Island, several years living in Calgary, and I also lived in the Greater Vancouver Area for a few years. I’ve driven through British Columbia many times. It’s such a great province, but it has some unique challenges. Weather, mountains, First Nations land… There’s also a rich history of smuggling across the 49th parallel. British Columbia makes a little more sense than Alberta for that type of story because of the ports and proximity to Seattle. Think about when the G8 summit was in Kananaskis. I love Kananaskis. One of my favorite places to go hiking, between Banff and Calgary. But they were able to shut down protesters because it’s harder to get to a place like that without going through airports. British Columbia has a long coastline. And a history of feet washing up on shores without bodies. How can I not set crime fiction there?

OBAAT: The Spying Moon’s protagonist of RCMP Constable Kendall Moreau. She’s the child of a white father and an Aboriginal mother who raised Kendall along until she disappeared and the child was whisked into a series of foster homes. Where did the idea for her come from?

SR: I went to school with kids who lived on what we then called Indian Reservations. One of my best friends in high school was part Native. There’s a lot of prejudice and a real lack of understanding about Native cultures and communities. Did you know that the most at-risk group in Canada is Native women? Nobody is more likely to be murdered than they are.

The fact that so many have disappeared or been denied justice because of indifference to the issue is Canada’s shame. It’s also a motivation for Moreau. Her mother disappeared on BC’s Trail of Tears. It’s a real place and real problem, although Moreau’s mother is a fictional character. The fact that anywhere from 19 to 40 or more women have gone missing or been killed there and there has only been prosecution in one case is staggering. The police can’t even verify all the potential victims. And we’re wondering why First Nations people might not trust the government? The list of injustices is too long to cover. We can’t fix everything from the past, but we can stop perpetuating the injustices in the future. If we don’t do that every apology is just words.

With Moreau, I wanted to be able to touch on these issues. At the same time, I wanted Moreau to have her own alienation. Her father (a white man) raped her mother. She doesn’t know him. Her very origins stem back to the abuse of Native women.

Then there’s the whole residential school issue. Native children were stripped from their families and lost their sense of identity and cultural heritage. Moreau isn’t taken in the same way, but when her mother disappears she’s lost in the system. This book is very much about her starting the journey of finding out who she is. In no way would I ever be so arrogant as to say I understand what Native children who were residential school victims went through. Moreau can only highlight how being denied your history and heritage can damage you. Think about it. We’re sending our DNA to Ancestry and searching for long-lost relatives to connect. These people lost their lands, their families, their cultural identity. It was stolen from them. In her own way, Moreau is lost and she represents things in my own life in a symbolic way. She’s the protagonist I feel closest to, of all the ones I’ve written, and yet she’s the hardest to know because she’s been victimized in a way that cuts right to the core of understanding who she is as a person.

Sadly, Moreau’s state at the start of the novel means that I don’t get to use her as a conduit for referencing great Aboriginal music. While I’m listening to A Tribe Called Red, Susan Aglukark, Iskwe and others, she isn’t. Yet. I’ve got Prolific the Rapper with A Tribe Called Red Black Snakes playing right now. Burn Your Village To The Ground is next. Iskwe did a song called Will I See that was a response to the murder of a 15-year old First Nations girl. ( It feels like this should be in the background, but it would be a cheat because Moreau has only thought of finding out what happened to her mother for her whole life. She’s held on to what little she remembers about Willow Moreau and the kind of person Willow was raising her to be. She hasn’t been able to let anything else in. This is why she puts her personal issues aside and focuses on the case, and it’s really hard to get much insight into how she thinks and feels because she isn’t putting on music or talking about movies or friends or sharing personal details. She just buckles down and focuses on work. Her whole life has been about one thing. What happens if she never gets the answers she seeks? Can she survive that?

OBAAT: Cultural appropriation is a hot topic lately, especially in Canada. What concerns did you have and precautions in writing did you take when writing a protagonist who is First Nation?

SR: "The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture." That's how the Cambridge dictionary defines cultural appropriation. I think the key starting point here is with the definition. Moreau is mixed race, which puts her in a slightly different category. The other consideration is intent. If I have a mission, it's to raise awareness for how Indigenous people have been mistreated and the issues that are facing Indigenous people. And what I lack in understanding I hope I make up for in respect.

Cultural appropriation can be a real issue. It can also be a deterrent that keeps people from including characters of different ethnic backgrounds in their works. I would never say that a man can't write a story from a woman's perspective. Some men might betray some of their own... misunderstandings about women, but that's down to how an individual man deals with the issue. Same with women writing men. We don't live in androgynous, monochromatic worlds. In order to truly represent society we need to be able to incorporate people with different backgrounds.

With Moreau, I'm coming at this from a place of wanting to know more. When I researched one of my novels 13 years ago, one of the RCMP officers I was able to learn from was part Native, part French. I've been fortunate to have people talk to me that could help me prepare to write different characters. The biggest issues I see are with writers who bring in Indigenous people or people from different ethnic groups to make them the obvious bad guy, or people who write about different ethnic groups with a clear bias against them. I've been fortunate enough to travel widely. I've been to over 25 different countries on four continents. I've tried to maintain a respectful attitude in those travels. If it was offensive to the local people to show your knees then I made sure to wear a skirt that covered my knees. I never traveled with the attitude that I was there to stuff my culture down anyone's throat. You travel to learn and experience different things.

Stories are another way of traveling. We can go places we might not otherwise visit and experience things that aren't part of our everyday experience. In my travels I've been fortunate enough to visit the Northwest Territories, Yukon Territories and Alaska. I've been to Tuktoyuktuk. I've seen beluga meat being stripped and smoked to prepare for winter. Do I understand what it is to live there year-round? No. Can I enrich someone's understanding of different cultures and customs by sharing about what I've seen or learned?

I really, truly hope that I write my characters in such a way that it honors Indigenous people. I hope we see more Indigenous crime fiction authors we can enjoy. We do have a tendency, as a society, to commercialize cultures and limit them. Ask Adrian McKinty how he feels about leprechauns and Lucky Charms representing Irish culture. Ask a Canadian how they feel about being mistaken for being American. (I have to be honest - most Americans can't tell with me.) Ask a New Zealander how to they feel about being mistaken for being Australian. I met a gal once and I'd recently been traveling and inside of a minute I put out my guess on her accent and she was shocked that I didn't say Australian first. It really pleased her that I recognized where she was from.

I think... I hope... that everyone feels positive when someone is trying to present their race positively and with respect. It's like kids with Cabbage Patch dolls, wanting to adopt one that looked like them. I hope people feel they can go into a bookstore, pick up a book, and identify with characters that are in the story. That they don't pick up book after book and see that all the characters are white. If we really believe in diversity we have to use our platforms to support it.

Also, initially I thought about doing this as a series that switched protagonists in different books. It was going to be tied to cross border policing. That would mean having American cops as well as Canadian cops. The trouble is, Moreau is so compelling for me that I don't feel her story is finished.

I may be at equal risk of backlash over a short story I wrote called Crossing Jordan. Jordan is a post-op trans woman. I am not. Part of the reason I wrote the story was because I have a member of my immediate family who identifies as a different gender than the one they were born with. Fiction gives us a chance to see the world through different eyes. I can be braver than I am through a heroic character. I can be down and dirty and break the law with a criminal protagonist. I can step outside the limits of my own life experience and step into someone else's shoes. I take the philosophy that at the end of the day, we're all people. Everything after that is degrees of differences. Not all Scottish people think the same way. Not all Canadians share the same views. Not all Americans voted for... Well, you get the idea. While cultural appropriation can be a legitimate issue, my fear is that if people stop incorporating different characters in their works then we're imposing fictional segregation.

OBAAT: Among the things I liked about The Spying Moon is that the investigation that dominates the book is peripheral to the putative reason for Moreau to be in Maple River, which is as part of a drug task force. It’s a nice bit of misdirection and shows how cops never get to work just one case at a time like they do so often on TV and the movies. Was that something you planned from the outset, or did things just go that way? Either way, was it hard to keep things balanced?

SR: I have such a strange mind that I’m always connecting random things and thinking big picture. I have a system for trying to keep track of my storylines. In truth, this is the first book I’ve written that has one single POV character. The challenge for me was making sure I only put things on the page that she was supposed to know at that point in the story. My idea had always been to start a series, and putting in this other case that ended up being in the background to some extent originated from that plan. The thing is that big cases with task forces don’t get solved in short periods of time. They’re the type of investigations that can go on for months or even years. Moreau wants to be done with it, so she hopes it can be wrapped up quickly, but other cases get in the way of making any progress at all. She’s stuck with Duncan on one case and McIver on another and isn’t happy about any of it. Everything in the story mirrors her isolation. She’s shut out by most members of her team. She’s shut out from the actual investigation she was sent there to work on. She’s facing roadblocks in town and derailed by construction inside and outside of the police station. She drives down a road as part of her investigation and it’s blocked and closed. She wanted to investigate her mother’s disappearance and was barred from doing that. It’s obstacle after obstacle in this story.

OBAAT: You’ve had a long-time presence in the short fiction/review/magazine realm, first with Spinetingler and now with Toe Six. Where did the idea for Toe Six come from, and what does the name mean?

SR: One of my favorite books is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. In this post-apocalyptic world, anyone who isn’t made in the image of God, with five fingers and five toes etc. etc., is a mutant and must be sterilized and cast out. When it’s discovered that David’s new friend Sophie has six toes, all hell breaks loose, and that’s not even the worst of it.

The sixth toe is the catalyst. It’s the discovery of that toe that kicks the story into high gear. That’s why I went with Toe Six. There has to be a reason for a story. And nobody else was called Toe Six Press. I want to keep publishing short fiction and also start publishing novels. I’m working on it, and hoping to take things to the next level very soon.

OBAAT: Does the Hamburglar still haunt your dreams?

SR: My husband just bought me a retro glass with Hamburglar on it. The family got me a stuffed one years ago. I hide clowns in their rooms and they inundate me with Hamburglar. There’s no escape. Honestly, he’s creepy. The real question is why he doesn’t cause more kids nightmares.